Bringing a horse back into work after a spell should be made gradually. All the health checks should be made prior to any work undertaken. So give your horse their 6-monthly full service - check teeth; feet; vaccinations and give an all -over body check. Look for any bumps, lumps or unusual blemishes that weren’t noticed prior to their horsey holiday. Check your equipment and saddlery; make sure your bridle and saddle fit (especially if they have changed shape due to weight increase or muscle loss), check the stitching, and condition of straps. Make sure your stirrup leathers are the required length in case you have grown, and that stirrup irons still fit (especially if you have new boots). Now the helmet standards have slightly changed you need to make sure your helmet meets current standards.
Look at bringing your horse into work gradually. Start with just walking in hand or under saddle. Then gradually increase into light work. Light work is defined as up to 30-60 minutes daily exercise, consisting of walking, trotting and some cantering.
Make feeding changes gradually. Look at slowly increasing your horse dietary Intake in relation to his work. A horse in light work needs to consume from 1.5-2.5% of its body weight in a dry feed (10% moisture) each day. Therefore a 500kg horse in light work would need to consume from 7.5 to 12.5kg of feed each day, or an average of 10kg daily to meet exercise demands and maintain its condition and vitality.
Be careful not to overwork. Horses that haven’t been ridden or seen much exercise over the summer break can be eager about going out on that first ride as you are. Don’t mistake this eagerness for fitness, and don’t assume that the horse is muscled and physically conditioned to do more. Odds are that he will over do it with eagerness and in two or three days his muscles will really be feeling the effect.
If your horse is like my Snippets at the moment and has gained a few kilos - you need to look at some much-needed weight loss. The key element for horses and ponies in losing weight is, “eating less” and “exercising more”. So, realistic goals for your horses’ weight loss are needed, with regular progress monitoring. Those fat horses and ponies are individuals and cannot all lose all their weight at the same rate. As those horses did not get fat overnight and they will not lose it all over night either – so patience is needed. Tania Cubitt, PhD, recommends an effective weight loss regimen for a mature, light breed horse should result in the loss of approximately 25-30 kg over a 4 to 6 week period.
Also if your horse needs to increase body weight this should be done gradually again with a realistic goal. If your horse is very thin, either body condition score 1 or 2 at the end of winter it should be placed on a gradual increased level of nutrition in order to restore body weight. Tania Cubitt, PhD, suggests it takes 15 to 20 kg of weight gain to change a horses body condition score by 1 unit (based on a 500 kg horse). Therefore a horse with a body condition score of 2 would need to gain approximately 60 kg to increase their condition score to a 5.
In summary, when bringing horses back into work we want to make all feeding changes gradually. Avoid overworking your horse beyond its fitness level, and allow adequate time for your horse to regain or lose weight to get them back to an optimal body condition. Make sure all the saddlery and equipment are in good repair, fit and meet current standard requirements.
Article by Natalie Williamson-Holley NCAS L1